The aspect of our new outdoor classroom with the steepest learning curve has been our construction/tinkering area. While a lot of us have involved preschoolers in woodworking, plumbing, and even electrical work (I learned last night that Connor helped his dad rewire the house) and other projects involving tools, none of us has much experience doing these things with 20+ kids.
We've built some pretty cool stuff over the past 3 months, no doubt, including things like turquoise houses, a sound garden, robots, and a water wall, but we're still working, for instance, on coming to a consensus about how to best insure safety. As we've used our hammers, saws, and drills on a daily basis, we've evolved a good set of guidelines, but from day-to-day, we have enforced those "rules" with more or less vigor depending upon our individual assessments of the danger. That's natural and right in line with the way things always work in a cooperative school, but with each passing day I'm seeing more consistency in how we're walking the balance, as a community, between being safe and offering a fun, meaningful experience for the kids.
Of course, the children have had their own learning curve, and most of them are now starting to understand and take responsibility for their own safety. For instance, many of them are now remembering, unprompted, to don eye protection, and others have started to insist upon a proper amount of workspace. Yesterday, I overheard heard Anjali insisting, "I need more room," before driving a nail, evidence of her growing understanding of how to properly use tools. Safety emerges from proper technique and creating a bubble of space around your project is fundamental to proper tool usage.
In spite of this progress, we've had one glaring problem: storage. We've known from the start that we needed a better storage solution, but for the past 3 months, we've been living with this:
In lieu of proper storage, we've just been heaping our saws, drills, hammers, measuring tapes, sanding blocks, screwdrivers, wrenches, mallets, levels, safety glasses and other sundry items in this Rubbermaid tub. It made a lot of us feel like things were a little out of control, we weren't comfortable with the kids grabbing their own tools, and often we had trouble locating just what we needed.
When I arrived at school yesterday, however, everything had changed. I found this mounted to the wall:
I knew Thomas' father Rob was going to work on a storage solution for us, but not in my wildest dreams did I expect anything like this. Not only will we now be able to find just what we're looking for, but we'll know, at a glance, what we have available and if we need to search for something that's missing.
If this is all Rob had done for us last weekend, it would have been above and beyond, but he also took on the challenge of our old, pink workbench. It's a solid piece of furniture, and the perfect height for the kids, but after years in the elements, the work surface was rotting, and we'd discovered that the manner of its construction severely limited our ability to use our clamps and vises. Not only did Rob give us a new top, but he made it our own by free-handing our unofficial school logo under the polyurethane.
I feel so lucky this morning. This is a true labor of love, one that will live on beyond Thomas and even his sister Charlotte who begins her own 3 years journey through Woodland Park next September.
Thank you, Rob. I know I'll think about you and your family each and every time I'm out there.